Rushford, Minnesota, August 19, 2007
From a sermon given the following Sunday.
Seven years ago my wife and I bought the house in which we are now living, and I am very happy to report that in all that time, that house has not moved even one inch. It continues to sit there, solid as can be, on the same foundation it was built on. It hasn’t moved a bit.
That is what houses are supposed to do, and for the most part we never even give it a thought. You all woke up this morning, and sure enough, there was your house, in the very same place as it was when you went to bed last night. Our cars, expensive as they are, come and go. The items within our houses get moved in and around and out again. Even the people that live in houses come and go. Houses get sold and the previous owners move out and new folks move in, or, people in the house die and the house goes on to others. But the house usually stays right there through all the many changes, solid as can be on its firm foundation.
But not always, as we’ve been seeing on the news this week. You’ve probably seen the pictures; portions of homes hanging out over a washed out river bank, houses washed onto railroad tracks, lop-sided houses with the basements caved in, houses out in the middle of the road. I saw one couple on TV talking about being in the house when it started to move. They had gone upstairs where they thought they would be safe from the rising water. But soon the whole house was lifting up off of its foundations, and moving off the yard and down the road, or I should say, down the river, swollen as it was to include everything around it. That uprooting of something so solid will have an impact on them for the rest of their lives.
Psalm 11:3 asks, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do, O Lord?” It goes on to speak of the Lord as our refuge. Other Psalms speak of the Lord who sustains us and restores us. The destruction of our foundations certainly forces upon us the big questions of life, questions that we might otherwise be distracted from by the hassles and routine duties of day to day life. The people in Rushford have had those routines disrupted and their entire lives turned upside-down. They are probably wondering what there is in life that can be depended on. If the very foundations of your house are not even solid and secure, what is?
The writer of the book of Hebrews was writing to a people very familiar with the God of the Old Testament– a God who was known to ‘shake the foundations’ once in a while. As you know, the Old Testament has something to say about a really big flood, sent by God Himself, for the very purpose of shaking the foundations. And God does that kind of ‘shaking’ quite often in the Old Testament. With with that in mind, listen again to these words from Hebrews 12:26 where God says, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” It goes on to say: “The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God with reverence and awe.”
That is something to think about. God himself will, at times, shake the temporary foundations, if that is what is needed to return us to those foundations which cannot be shaken. So we might well ask, ‘Is that what the people in Rushford needed?’ Were they, in Southeastern Minnesota, more in need of the reminder than those of us here in South Central Minnesota? Does God decide ahead of time who will get how much rain, and then dole it out on the basis of who deserved a much needed rain on their crops, and who, on the other hand, deserved a devastating flood? And if that is the case, how can it be that all those who needed the reminder to turn to God happen to live in the same area? Who can even begin to say how this works?
But even if we don’t have all those answers, we can take to heart the lessons of Hebrews 12. The much needed rain did come to us as a great blessing, and it has not yet turned against us in the form of floods. But we can be certain that we will each get our turn at having our foundations shaken. Everyone gets their turn at this shaking in one way or another, be it storm or illness or disappointment or failure or conflicts, or any of the afflictions we may face. In fact, as the verse says, everything that can be shaken will one day be removed, for in death we ourselves will be removed from all that we have and know. Therefore, it is for all of us to heed the Word of the Lord there which says, “Look then to what remains, what cannot be shaken, and therefore, let us be thankful that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” When everything else is shaken, taken, washed away, burned away, or destroyed, there is still something that remains– that eternal kingdom of God, promised to all who believe. Every time the foundations are shaken can be a time to look deeper at and for that kingdom of God. The Psalmist prayed, “What can the righteous do when the foundations are being destroyed?” God answered that, and every prayer, of everyone in every time and place, by sending Jesus Christ; and Jesus shows us the way to that everlasting kingdom which cannot be shaken or destroyed.
The hymn When Peace Like a River was written in the mid-1800s by a man named Horatio Spafford. Not many of us have had our foundations shaken and our lives turned upside-down by tragedy like him. He and his wife and four daughters lived in Chicago. They were going to England for a vacation, but the husband was delayed by business. The wife and four daughters went on ahead. He was to follow on a later ship. The ship that this family was on sunk in a storm, and most on board perished at sea. His wife survived, but all four of their daughters drowned. As soon as he heard of the tragedy, the grief-stricken father took the next ship across the Atlantic to join his distraught wife. As the ship passed over the area where his daughters were lost at sea, a deeply shaken Horatio Spafford was thinking about that ‘kingdom that cannot be shaken,’ and was inspired to write this great hymn of faith and hope. In the first verse he wrote of his time of agony, describing it as “when sorrows like sea billows roll.” But then he adds, “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”
The contrast is between what can be shaken, this fragile life of ours in these temporary bodies, and what cannot be shaken, our eternal soul. In this life, the sorrows can roll over us in waves, and sometimes does– but all can still be well with our soul, which is held in God’s eternal hand no matter what happens to us here. Thus, even though filled with grief, Spafford could write, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
With God, the surface of things can be filled with turbulence and sadness; but at the deepest level, our souls can be at peace. We can have what the Bible call that ‘peace that passes all understanding.’ But without God, even if everything on the surface is going well, there will be in our hearts a deep anxiety; anxiety because the clock keeps ticking, our days are numbered, ‘everything will be removed,’ and without God, there is no hope of anything more.
Put your trust in that foundation that cannot ever be destroyed or shaken.
Psalm 11:3 — If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Hebrews 12:25-28 — See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God with reverence and awe.
God’s Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it.
For God Himself fights by our side,
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse;
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day,
The Kingdom’s ours forever.
–Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, verse four.